Thursday, April 04, 2013

Not OK

State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie called an extraordinary press conference this afternoon to defend the Prime Minister's crony-appointment of Ian Fletcher to head the GCSB. In the process, he said that John Key's behaviour was "not atypical" and that it was OK for him to intervene. Bullshit. While it may be normal for John Key to shoulder-tap his mates, it is not the process envisioned by the State Sector Act. That Act is crystal clear: the SSC examines the applicants and recommends an appointment. The government's only options are to accept it, or to reject it and appoint their own person (in which case they have to tell us they are doing so via a Gazette notice - an accountability mechanism which ensures they never do it). The Minister's input is at the beginning of the process - where they inform the SSC of matters they want taken into account in the appointment (e.g. whether they want someone capable of steering a department in a new direction, or able to cope with additional responsibilities the government plans to enact) - and at the end (when they presumably shape Cabinet's view of whether to accept the recommendation). And that's it. While encouraging cronies to apply and letting the panel know that a particular applicant has your favour isn't in itself illegal, its a complete subversion of the process. And that's not OK.

(And its worth noting that National agrees - or at least did when they were in opposition. Remember Clare Curran? Her appointment to the Ministry for the Environment was grossly improper. And she was just a PR flack, not the Chief Executive of a dangerously lawless agency...)

It is natural for Ministers to want to return the public service to a spoils system to reward their cronies. It is the duty of the SSC to resist that urge to corruption and protect the values of neutrality, independence and professionalism which allows the public service to serve regardless of who is in office. By bowing to Key's blandishments and appointing Fletcher, Iain Rennie has done us all a disservice, and placed those values at risk.